Nope. No major manufacturer is planning on releasing an all-electric car any time soon. Tesla motors is building an all-electric sports car, but it’s going to be over $100,000, and won’t be available until at least 2010. It’s very much a niche automobile.
The next incremental improvement over the current crop of hybrids will be the plug-in hybrid. These are basically hybrid cars not much different than the ones today, except that they have somewhat more powerful batteries and will be able to be plugged in to a standard electrical socket. They’ll still have a gas engine and can work in a standard hybrid configuration when the battery is discharged enough.
Frankly, I’m not sure we need all-electric. The plug-in hybrid strikes me as a very smart engineering compromise. To go all electric, you need to be able to carry a battery capable of at least a hundred miles’ range. That’s a huge, expensive, and heavy battery. But the 80% case for a typical car is to travel less than 20 miles. So for 80% of your trips, you’re dragging around weight that you don’t need. So why not carry a battery optimized for the 80% case, and let a gas engine charge the battery when the range needs to be extended? Make the engine flex-fueled so it can burn whatever is in good supply at the time - ethanol gasoline, whatever.
This type of vehicle is also much more reliable. The added redundancy of a small gas motor means it can operate off the grid if it needs to - imagine if we were all-electric, and there was a blackout? The next day, 90% of a city’s commuters would be stranded because they couldn’t charge their cars. Not a problem for the plug-in hybrid. Nor is the occasional very long trip. And all-electric has a bootstrapping problem - until all gas stations can charge electrics rapidly or swap batteries, it’s going to be hard to travel any real distance in one. The plug-in hybrid can use the existing infrastructure when it has to. It’s just a smarter way to go all around.
That’s a solution we could live with for many decades. Estimates are that the typical plug-in hybrid might only burn 1 gallon of gasoline on average for every 500 miles it travels. At those consumption levels, cost isn’t a big issue (if I’m getting 500 miles to the gallon, I’l gladly pay 10 dollars per gallon), and the consumption rate will be low enough that ethanol actually makes some sense.
We are just on the cusp of this technology. The big issue now is simply the cost and safety of the batteries. Lithium-ion has a high enough energy density to be totally suitable for this purpose. The Tesla roadster will use Li-ion batteries. As will the Chevrolet Volt, which at this point is scheduled to be the first plug-in hybrid available on the market - in 2010 (or so GM says - I’d bet more like 2011 or 2012). Nonetheless, GM says that they’ll sell 60,000 to 100,000 of them in the first year - four times the sales of the Prius. And they just might - this is the first hybrid car I’m seriously considering.